E is for Emotionally Involved

When I read, I want to be absorbed. Don’t want to hear the television or the neighbor’s dog barking. 

For such magic to happen, I have to be emotionally involved

File:Study of a Girl Reading by Valentine Cameron Prinsep.jpg

Cameron Princep’s absorbed reader: Dinner can wait.

To care we must be attached, and it’s no different with a book. That means a story with a character I can get behind, someone whose happiness or anguish means more than words.

Wonderful prose and literary devices do wonders, and I’ve stayed with my fair share of books enticed by prose alone. But time is limited with so many books to read out there. If I don’t care for the characters, I put the book down. 

A story with memorable characters triggers emotion, right? It brings back  past moments, a person, a place — much like a song.

File:"... A dream ... the piano...".jpg

So, reading can be like hearing a song … someone playing a happy or sad canto … 

Let’s take “The Pilot’s Wife,” by Anita Shreve. We have lovely descriptions and stunning prose, but also mystery, melancholy, love, and gut-wrenching pain, because the writer lets us in on the character’s thoughts.  

Would I have stayed with the story for the beauty of the language alone? Probably not. But the writer made me care, so the noise around me faded to an unnoticeable background. I was emotionally involved, turning the pages like mad.  

So, how do I keep the reader absorbed?

Through metaphors, similes, and imagery. Sure. But the devices remain a study in great writing if I don’t get the reader to know the characters.  How do I do that? I let the reader in on the character’s thoughts by emploing the use of internal monologue. 

Some writing friends suggested I use too much inward reflection. And they’re trying to help, I know, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Internal thought is what captivates, the reason I return to old stories.  The only way to show what goes through the character’s mind.

Is that it? No, I’m generalizing to keep the post short, but the idea is the same:  Make me remember the characters long after I finish reading  the book.  How?  Give me emotion.

That’s my story, but how about you? What keeps you involved when reading a story?


Photos credit: “Study of a Girl Reading,” oil on panel, by Valentine Cameron Prinsep, courtesy of Christie’s;  “A dream … the piano…”, by Ana Inigo Olea — from Wikimedia Commons.


16 responses to “E is for Emotionally Involved

  1. I enjoyed this article and, if you’ll excuse the cliché, it has you written all over it. So, naturally it made me smile.

  2. Thanks Debi — in a good way, I hope. :)

    Jen, appeciate your kind words.

  3. I love internal reflection, even if certain modern people insist that’s “telling” instead of “showing.” Funny how that device was used so often in older books and no one really noticed or minded that they were being directly told things instead of having to read between the lines and guess how the character was feeling.

  4. I love to be absorbed in my books too. When I am I’m really in that author’s imaginary world.

  5. So true. Nothing stops me reading a book faster than characters I don’t care about.

  6. Carrie-Anne, I’m with you — sometimes we have to “tell.” So long as we know the rules, we can make exceptions.

    Shar, thank you. We agree.

    Angeline, can’t tell you how many books I put down for that exact reason.

  7. I love it when I get so emotionally involved in a book that I can’t put it down, that the characters feel like people I know in “real life.”

    Thanks for stopping by Tales of a Pee Dee Mama


  8. I like it when a character acts in a surprising way and as I peel back the layers to figure out why, I see that they have a complex and interesting backstory.

  9. Right on TaMara. No emotion, hard to care for characters.

    Melanie, yeah, same here. Thanks so much for commenting.

  10. I like a great plot but to get involved in a book I have to love the characters or at least be really curious about what happens to them.

  11. It’s all about the emotional involvement for me too :) Lovely painting!

  12. What keeps me involved? The writing must be competent. If I’m editing the work in my head as I read, there’s a problem. Apart from minimal writing competency, a meaningful and true character arc. And yes, that definitely comes via internal reflection and emotional engagement. No matter how appealing the character, I don’t care for series where the protag doesn’t change or grow, book after book after book. Finally, I want to be surprised. Can’t stand being able to guess the ending after reading the first page.

  13. Great post. This is how I feel about books too.

  14. I love to be captivated or infused into a story as well. You will find all these elements and more in my newly released memoir, Under the Staircase: Hearing God’s Voice in the Darkness. You can find it at http://www.darladumler.com/Books.html

  15. It’s a vitally important point that you make, and I especially appreciate the lessons you’ve learned as a writer.

I welcome your thoughts.

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